‘Live Cargo’: Film Review | AFI Fest 2016

Courtesy of AFI
Nicely observed, but misses the mark.

Dree Hemingway and Robert Ray Wisdom co-star in Logan Sandler’s debut feature, set among the islands of the Bahamas.

American Film Institute alum Logan Sandler returns to his old stomping grounds in the Bahamas for Live Cargo, a tense relationship drama shot in distinctive black-and-white hi-def. Although visually observant, the film’s narrative remains frustratingly vague, disclosing little about its central characters and often burying the principal plot points. Nevertheless, a pronounced sense of style and place suffuses the entire film, boding well for Sandler’s future projects.

Following the death of their infant child shortly after birth, Americans Lewis (Keith Stanfield) and Nadine (Dree Hemingway) make an extended visit to her family’s island home in the Bahamas so that Nadine can rest and try to recover from the tragedy. Returning to familiar surroundings helps her begin healing while she’s able to pursue some of her favorite activities and spend time with old friends like Roy (Robert Ray Wisdom), the mayor of the small island and a longtime family acquaintance. Settling into a comfortable routine of fishing, boating and swimming, Nadine begins to regain a semblance of balance, but Lewis feels out of place among the islanders and their unfamiliar mixed-race culture.

More disturbing to Nadine is an encroaching criminal element, represented by interloper Doughboy (Leonard Earl Howze) and his crew of petty criminals, who are attempting to monopolize boating and fishing operations around the island. She’s still too traumatized to deal with much beyond her own grief however, trying to mask her pain with booze and late-night partying. In her more sober moments, she takes an interest in the welfare of Myron (Sam Dillon), a homeless teenager, and tries to get Roy to help him out. Doughboy has bigger plans for Myron, however, which could end up disrupting the entire community as his shady activities begin expanding on a regional scale.

Sandler advantageously relies on his own personal experiences in the Bahamas for plot material, effortlessly evoking a strong sense of place. The shimmering images of sandy beaches and tropical waters are clearly if incongruously conveyed by the HD black-and-white footage, even if Sandler’s attempt to undercut typical tourist preconceptions about the Caribbean with a more realist perspective is somewhat strained.

That vision isn’t measurably improved by the script co-written with producer Thymaya Payne, which remains much too indirect in assigning motivation to the principal characters, rendering them far more reactive than intentional. Although Hemingway imbues Nadine with a comfortable naturalism, her slide into self-destructive behavior seems too profound and precipitous given the minimal setup.

Wisdom’s Roy provides a nice balance to Nadine’s impulsiveness, but doesn’t develop nearly the level of menace required to confront the forces arrayed against his community. Myron remains something of a cypher and Dillon can’t quite extract sufficient detail to complete the character, even though he plays a key role in the unfolding of the plot. Background and supporting performances by island locals augment the main cast to provide the film with palpable authenticity.  

Production companies: Wanted Media, Simonsays Entertainment, Anthelion Films

Cast:  Dree Hemingway, Keith Stanfield, Leonard Earl Howze, Robert Ray Wisdom, Sam Dillon

Director: Logan Sandler

Screenwriters: Logan Sandler, Thymaya Payne

Producers: Thymaya Payne, Mortimer Canepa, Lauren Rachel Brady, Tina Preschitz, Rene Bastian, Randolph Hearst Harris, Logan Sandler

Executive producers: Valery Dorshimer, Scott Sandler, Steven Sablotsky, Ron Simons

Director of photography: Daniella Nowitz

Production designer: Emmeline Wilks-Dupoise

Costume designer: Christina Chin

Editors: Nick Ellsberg, Garret Price  

Music: Brooke Blair, Will Blair

Casting directors: Danielle Aufiero, Amber Horn

Venue: AFI Fest


Not rated, 88 minutes